Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Learning to Forgive: How to Let Go and Move Forward

Learning to Forgive: How to Let Go and Move Forward

It happens to the best of us: someone has hurt you in some way and you have to chart that long, complicated path toward forgiveness.

Getting to the point of forgiveness can be a journey in itself; one that is rewarding once you can honestly say to the person, and yourself, that you have forgiven him or her for the offense that person did to you.

With forgiveness, we are instructed by Jesus in scripture that “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 6:14, NKJV). He reiterated the importance of forgiveness again when Peter asked how many times to forgive a brother in Christ. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22, NKJV).

But the real question is…now what? What do you do now that you have forgiven the person but don’t want a repeat of history with him or her? By forgiveness, does that mean you are only setting yourself up to be hurt by this person again, to be his or her doormat?

It is possible to move forward after forgiving someone, while still protecting yourself from getting hurt again. It takes an evaluation of the relationship, setting boundaries, and finding true and lasting peace. 

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What Is Forgiveness?

What Is Forgiveness?

According to Bible Study Tools, "Human Forgiveness. In the Lord's Prayer, receiving forgiveness from God is joined to forgiving others ( Matt 6:12;  Luke 11:4 ). Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant makes the point that human beings are obliged to forgive because God has forgiven them ( Matt 18:23-35 ). God's forgiveness is actually said to be conditional upon forgiving others ( Matt 6:14 ;  18:35 ;  Mark 11:25-26 ;  Luke 6:37 ). Jesus says that there ought to be no limit on the number of times that one should forgive another so long as the offender repents and asks for forgiveness ( Matt 18:21-22 ;  Luke 17:3-4 )."

Step One: Evaluate Your Friendship

To begin, let’s start with a common scenario: a friend has hurt you in a personal way, whether through something said, posted online, or just not being available by choice for you.

You have toiled over forgiving this person and, through long periods of quiet time with God and scriptural reflection, you can finally say that you have forgiven the person from the wrong he or she has done. Your next step is almost as important as the step of forgiveness. You must come to terms with what happened, and navigate what your new position with this person is right now.

The first step is taking a brutally honest look at the relationship before the offense was committed. How would you have described your friendship with this person before? Was it pleasant, genuine, convenient, distant, etc.? Were you seeing one another regularly, or were you having to set everything up in getting together with this person?

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Making a Decision Based on Your Evaluation

Making a Decision Based on Your Evaluation

These questions, done in reflective time with God, are to be upfront about what this person’s impact is in your life. You are determining whether the person has had a positive or negative impact in your life, evaluating your interactions with the person, seeing if the offense is a regular pattern with the person, and even whether you and your friend had more in common years ago than you do presently.

Journaling these feelings might be a good step to take in order to see your thoughts on paper and the true status of your friendship written out in the open for you. It could be shocking revelations, or it could be hints from years past that have finally formed a realistic picture of your friend to you.

Write down also what you feel God is telling you in regards to this person, what He is revealing to you about this person, and where He wants the relationship to go. The book of Proverbs, especially, encourages us to seek God’s wisdom on this and all matters: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6, NKJV). This shows God always has the right answers!

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What Forgiveness Is Not

What Forgiveness Is Not

Forgiveness is NOT meaning that you have to be friends with the person you forgave. We need to establish clear boundaries with those who have hurt us so that we may not encounter that hurt again.

Forgiveness is also not enabling. Following church disciplinary actions, if a person continues to live in sin with a path of destruction, consequences happen. You can forgive and still keep your distance from a person.

2. Step Two: Establishing Clear Boundaries

When you feel you have reached the point of having a clear understanding of the terms of your relationship with this person, the next step is to determine boundaries for how to interact moving forward. Of course, consideration must be made if you work with this person or it is a family member or family friend.

The boundaries you set will determine how much you see of this person, whether it is with a group or alone, what setting you see each other in, or even if you can even continue on with a face-to-face friendship anymore.

For example, if your friend mainly wants to only spend time with you in questionable areas (bars, clubs), you could set a boundary that you will only see him/her in settings that are healthy for your Christian witness as well as your relationship. If the person’s facilities get impaired in certain situations, or a group of people around prompts him/her to poke fun at you, these facts must also be included in figuring out how and where you spend time with the person.

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Setting the Biggest Boundary: Time Spent with This Person

Setting the Biggest Boundary: Time Spent with This Person

The biggest boundary to set is how much time you want to spend with this person, whether you can continue with your regular meetups together or if you feel better treading lightly with your friend and taking time to ease back into the friendship. This is where trust comes into play, in terms of if you feel you can trust your friend understands your forgiveness of his/her error in judgment and knows trust has to be built again (if it can be built at all).

The boundaries set are not to be further punishment to your friend but more for protection of you, as you continue to come to terms with what was done and can move forward from it. Just because you have forgiven the person doesn’t mean that you have forgotten it happened, excused his/her behavior, or are willing to place yourself in the same predicament again. The boundaries are also for you as well, stopping any unhealthy behavior for this friend from you that could place you in the same situation again.

Responding to Pushback from Your Friend about Your Boundaries

If your friend asks why all of a sudden you don’t want to spend as much time together, or why you don’t want to go to your regular meetup spots, you can then be honest with him/her in saying why you have made this decision and that it is to ensure your friendship can stay intact. You are learning to trust him/her again.

Proverbs 12:26 illustrates best what it means to choose people in your circle that also seek to walk in Christ: “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray” (NKJV). Choosing friends wisely and making sure they are sharpening you as much as you are sharpening them, especially in being true Christ-followers, is possible through setting boundaries and forgiving those who could change for the better from forgiveness. 

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Bible Verses on Boundaries

Bible Verses on Boundaries

2 Corinthians 6:14: "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

Colossians 4:6: "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."

Proverbs 25:17: "Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you."

Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Proverbs 15:1: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

Step 3: Find Peace in the Progress

Finally, you make it to the last step, which is finding the peace in the situation, with your friend, and with how God is directing the outcome of everything. This is a step where no matter what the status is with your friendship, you can be forthright in saying you can pray for him/her and hope for God’s blessings to come into his/her life.

When you have reached this point in moving forward from forgiveness, you find security in knowing you are in a healthy place again. You aren’t thinking as much (or hopefully not at all) of your friend’s offense, maybe you are gaining trust again in your friendship, or maybe you felt peace in concluding this friendship that needed to end. The bottom line is…you’re okay again.

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Understanding and Accepting What God Has Taught You Through This Process

Understanding and Accepting What God Has Taught You Through This Process

The peace also comes with awareness and acceptance of what lesson God imparted to you through this experience. You realize that the heartache and anger from what your friend committed against you was never used by God to hurt you, but instead to guide you, to grow you, and to prosper you as you move forward in His plan for you. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will guide your path” (Prov. 3:5-6, NKJV).

Even if the most drastic step was taken and you ended the friendship because of what happened, or due to an accumulation of events, peace from God can even emerge there in knowing that forgiveness was given before the friendship’s conclusion and you ended on better terms than with a screaming match.

A Healthy Way Forward

This awareness and acceptance will also come through in how you describe this experience to those around you. Before, maybe you vented about it, said something scathing remarks about the person, cried, punched a wall: now, you are reflective on it and can use the experience as a witness of how God used something that was bad for good.

Maybe people listening have endured their own heartache from a friend and will be shocked to hear instead of hateful words or actions about the offensive friend an attitude of thanksgiving and spiritual reflection that are breaths of fresh air.

It’s not easy to find peace after forgiveness of someone, but God can use the situation to strength you and the forgiven person independently, together with your friendship/relationship, or even in sharing the testimony of the experience to reflect God’s glory and love. All you need to do is forgive and follow God, as He alone knows the outcome of every situation in our lives and knows what is best to grow us into the Christ-followers we are meant to be.


Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and editor for Xulon Press. A graduate of Stetson University with a Bachelor's in Communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine in Leesburg, Florida and currently freelances for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.

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